Valparaiso

Valparaiso – or ‘Valpo‘ as locals affectionately call it – was definitely on my list so when I was surprised by the news that we had a long weekend, I immediately booked a bus ticket. I remember from a holiday in Peru how easy and relatively cheap one can travel there so I was happy to find it is very similar here.

First and foremost I was extremely lucky with the weather. I can imagine that if it is raining, extremely windy or just downright cold, a weekend like that is less fun. Officially, it is winter time here now but you would not have thought so last weekend. And the blue skies turned out to be the ideal background to take pictures of very colourful and charming Valparaiso. I have a natural aversion to the word picturesque, but when it comes to a town like Valparaiso, the word was made to describe it.

A co-worker had given me some pointers and gosh was I grateful once I got there with those extremely detailed and truthful tips and tricks. Not that I could act as though I belonged, with the sunglasses, big camera and limited Spanish I was not kidding anyone. Much to my surprise, I did not get lost though. Not that the bobbled streets, lack of urban plan and small passeos didn’t lend themselves perfectly to this purpose, but the city centre was overseeable in size and I always ended up where I wanted to be. The graffiti on all the walls, the different colours on ever wall or step, also provided me with a pleasant distraction and wondering aimlessly would not have been a waste of time. Some walls were true art. I guess graffiti in general sparks as many gasps of wonder as it does condemnations, a bit like tattoos. And when I think of a graffiti in the sense of a quick offensive word sprayed on the side of a train or a bridge, yes I must agree, but not in Valparaiso.

Based on my co-worker’s advice, I immediately headed for the cemetery. When he said it, I did not even think twice but at the moment that I was standing at the closed gate, I all of sudden wondered if I was allowed in at all. Let alone with a big camera, clearly not there to honour long lost relatives.. But it was absolutely fine and in I went. The guard slept and the streetdogs only briefly looked up, to then decide they were not interested and put their head down again.

The view was indeed wonderful, but in combination with the eerie and peaceful atmospehere of the white thumbstones and family chappels, it was perfectly amazing. I could not help but take pictures. And how great is it that this particular spot was reserved for the dead? As if in an last gesture the living wanted to give those long lost souls a view for eternity. I could not help but feel calm. I have no clue how much time I spent there.

The next day, I made the effort to take another (short) bus-ride to visit Pablo Neruda’s house. For someone that studied literature, it only made sense? The house still had much more furniture and trinkets in it than I had expected, and therefore it was not that hard to imagine the Great Poet sitting there at his workdesk, writing award winning poems. And probably having a good oldfashioned drinking fest with friends afterwards. The house itself was sort of cool: big rooms and small winding steps, superb views. The house was a prime example of art nouveau and it once again stressed the mix of architecture and styles that Valparaiso has to offer: old European charm, mixed with bohemian house and winding passages in between.

Not coincidentally, I stayed in a Belgian B&B/cafe: Viavia. (Also art nouveau, and thus big rooms.) I did not have my heart set on that, I am all for trying local things, but there happens to be a Viavia in Heverlee, and one in Arusha (or at least there used to be one under the Joker-flag) and it felt only right to stay at this one. Besides, the team that runs it is 99% Chilean so what better place to atch the Belgian football game at lunchtime and have my Pisco Sour in the evening? Not that I lasted long in the evenings. In Valparaiso, I noticed how extremely tired I am lately. With every single thing being new to me, and the need to pay attention to practically everything I do and see, and having all my senses in an alert state all the time, I am exhausted. At work, in the supermarket, in the street.. I am taking in so much information, I sometimes feel my brain might temporarily shut down for a while. On top of that it has been cold (the last winter I experienced must have been 2009), and I am walking a lot. So the weekend was also a good opportunity to catch up on some sleep.

Next time, I will come here with the girls. They will love it.

(N.B. Will post pictures in a separate post)

Saying goodbye

I promise this wil not become a sentimental post, but there are some things I want to say. Because I have said goodbye in my life more than I wish to remember.

When leaving China and the UK, saying goodbye was kind of self-evident, I only went for a short period of time, an extended holiday so you will. In both instances my fellow students left the country at the same time so it was only normal we part ways. And hurray for Facebook, where I can to this day still see what they are up to but do not need to email them weekly to ask. Funnily enough, I made good Belgian friends in both countries. Like I said, I was there for a limited time.

When leaving Belgium, time and again, I never truly say goodbye to anyone, Belgium is my base and I will always return. No guarantees on the regularity of those visits but hey, with everyone’s schedule these days I sometimes see my old schoolfriends at the same intervals that they see each other.

But then we left Tanzania. A whole different ball game all together after 16 years. The person leaving was quite clearly not the same person that arrived in 2002. I had spent close to half of my life there. My kids had spent almost their whole life there. And the majority of the people I said goodbye to, I know I won’t ever see again. And some of the important people in those 16 years had left already anyway. Yes, in an expat life one does become more used to saying goodbye than one cares for. But this time it was me leaving. I know that some people expected a big farewell. I decided not to do one, not a big one anyway. I probably didn’t make myself very popular with that decision. First and foremost, I hate goodbyes, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it – let alone to stretch out the experience with a big audience and a sauce of alcohol on top of it. Then, let us not forget I did a farewell party in 2008 and had returned. So how often can I do that without losing credibility all together.. Also, in 2018 there was an immense number of people leaving and I had been to so many farewells already, I have to admit I was not keen to add my tick to that list with bells and whistles.

But yes, it was hard. And I did cry. Multiple times. But I need to believe that geography alone does not define the quality of my relationships.

And I know that people without pets won’t fully understand this but the fact that I was forced to leave my dogs behind, broke my girls’ and my heart. You have to know, there were more pets living in my house than people. And we had reached the stage where they got away with murder, sitting on the couch and everything.. I was planning and was all prepared to take them with me by the way. But with the Dane being old and frail, a 15-hour flight, and everyone ending up in an appartment in a big city.. not ideal. Thank god we found good homes for them. I try not to think about them too much, it still sends a painful twang to my heart. (Sorry, I said I was not going to get sentimental..)

When it comes to stuff and belongings, I actually recommend that everyone tries this at least once in their life: a complete and total purge. I am not a materialistic person to begin with (I think?) but getting rid of almost everything is something else. And god, do people gather crap over the years. The girls and I will live from 6 suitcases for the upcoming months. Until we start gathering crap again that is of course.

All in all, I guess I will keep in touch with some people, and the ones you keep in touch with become all the more special because of it. I will make sure we have a foldable couch in Santiago just in case. And of course, hurray for Facebook. Because I can name a list of annoying aspects about it but being able to connect to other global citizens is definitely a plus. And as far as I know, it is not forbidden in Tanzania yet?

Santiago

I have been bombarded with questions such as “what are your first impressions?”, “I can’t wait for you to tell me what you think of the city”, and the simple and straightforward “what is it like?”. But since I keep using the same words to describe it to reply to everyone that asks, I thought I’d share. It is less personal yes, I am sorry.

First and foremost, I am not on holiday. So despite how beautiful the city is and how wonderful the people are, I know I will be living here. So I had to buy a sim card and charge it. I had to buy a metro card and charge it, and then find my way using it. I had to find my way in the supermarket. I need to get used to the currency. I need to practice my Spanish. The list goes on. My point is: that experience is truly humbling. Yes I speak (some) Spanish, but I can safely and truthfully say I have to figure out everything again. No misplaced pride or arrogance here, I can literally say “no sé nada”. But that’s okay, because once you accept that, every single thing is empowering too 🙂 And the people have been wonderful and welcoming as well. My colleagues speak English (I have the feeling your average person doesn’t?) and they have been so incredibly nice. Chilean people also just seem rather chill (excuse the pun), with the amount of traffic you encounter here, I find it amazing no one uses his/her horn? They must be really calm in nature. 

But that of course has little to do with Santiago and you wanted to read about Santiago of course.

First, there is the Andes. They are beautiful, they are omnipresent and I can imagine how they very much define the identity of this city and its residents. I have already figured out that if I want to go North, the mountains have to be on my right. (And yes: South, left.) So I have my eye on them at all times. It is also because of the Andes, that my past 3 mornings started with fog. Today (day 3), I went to the view point on San Cristobal Hill and that was a mind-blowing sight, with the mountains cradling the city. I am sure that at some point, the girls and I will drive in the direction of the Andes and go skiiing. How can anyone not, right?

The city itself is huge. I read that 7 million people live here. I have now walked around in it for the last 3 days and I feel I have not even skimmed the surface. It has an interesting mixture of old and new, history and modern buildings, and every area has it’s own special and unique character. It will be a search for me and the girls to see where we will live. Most likely, on the Eastern side (the side of the mountains) because both the school (North-East) and my office (a bit more South-East) are there. But even that does not pin it down to a specific neighbourhood so stay tuned.

My limited tick list I made before arrival, had “Plaza de Armas” in the top 3. Your typical Latin American city will have a Plaza de Armas, it is the old market square so to speak. And the one in Santiago did not disappoint: some musicians were playing music, old men were playing chess, lots of people were enjoying the afternoon sun on a bench, the police rides horses, pigeons everywhere.. The old city centre is always fun to explore: avenues, parks, statues, fountains, churches, universities.. you can just see, smell and feel the history everywhere.

What I am less used to, is the big shiny malls. That is not only because I just lived in Africa for the past 16 years, but even in Belgium they are more exception than rule. I assume it is the American influence that brought them to South America? Especially the food court on the top floor is a concept foreign to me. I can’t say I care for that very much. But I will be the last to complain to have some first world luxury, and my girls will be over the moon. And today I had a fresh raspberry juice for a dollar and a half on the roof of a mall with the view of the glorious snow caped Andes. The perks.

Yeah.. I think we will settle in just fine. And I still have loads to see.

 

 

 

 

Puzzled

She had always been very mature for her age. Or no.. what is the better way to explain it? She had always had an old soul. Yes, that is what a teacher once wrote in her report card: ‘she has an old soul’.

At the age of 9, she heard from a friend that there are YouTube videos that show you how to solve a Rubik’s Cube. So she set her mind to it and she taught herself the algorithm to solve a Rubik’s Cube. After she made sure she could do it every single time, she set out to school and told everyone that if they had a Cube at home which was jumbled up, she would make it right again. Numerous children showed up with one, even more children showed up to watch.

She told her mother about her little project, and asked to be filmed. Her motivation? “This will be my college application.” It wasn’t ruthless ambition that made her do it, or the plan to boast about it later (old souls don’t think like that) but it was out of pure empathy. Since she knew that the college of her choice might depend on a scholarship based on her own merit, and not on her mother’s financial situation.

And in school? Everything went well, she did all the cubes, and the rightful owners took them home to put them back on their shelf, all perfect looking. She now enjoys the reputation of clever cookie. And maybe nerd? But we like nerds.

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If you think this is my weak attempt to a short story, you are mistaking, this is a true story. You see my eldest daughter in the picture, she is 14 now. Yes, she has decided which college she wants to apply for (she is subscribed to the newsletter). And yes, she can still do Rubik’s cubes.

Zanzibar

There is something about the water that other places just do not have. And then I do not care if it is a lake or an ocean, a place at the water just always feels like a room with one wall less. So imagine what an island feels like. (Extra advantage on an island: the humidity is bearable due to the breeze.)

I am not sure how many times I have been to Zanzibar in my life. And throughout the years I made the transition of booking backpacker places that offered a weak excuse for a breakfast to five star hotels, with the stage of decent average places in between.

So when this time around, my brother decided to join me and my family with his family, we decided to go all the way: a full week and five star places and extra excursions. (See pictures below)

Tulia Zanzibar was the revelation of the trip for me. I had never been there. It boasts about having the only pool slides and fastest wifi on the island so because we had kids and teenagers with us, that seemed like a great fit. I was not expecting the food to be excellent, I never really book a property for the food, but my word it was exquisite! Something that guests sometimes complain about in Zanzibar is the tides, and the huge distance between them. Tulia did not only have 2 pools anyway but they cleverly made an extra artificial beach for when the tide is high.

This does mean I had my water-island-beach fix for a while now..

PICTURES:

Park Hyatt

Park Hyatt view pool ocean

Prison Island

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Six Degrees Restaurant

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Stone Town

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Lunch at The Rock

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Tulia Zanzibar

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Spice Tour (the picture shows nutmeg by the way)

nutmeg

My Favorite(s)

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions and therefore “blogging more regularly” was not one of them. But this morning, both my kids said something that made me think.. and very often when something makes me think, it makes me write.

For a while, I have been pressing my snooze button but instead of dozing off again in my own bed, I go and lay with my daughter and doze off next to her. I consider it a gentle way of waking her up and giving her some time before she needs to get up. I have two daughters so I alternate between them.

When I casually mentioned this system of switching every day between them, you should have seen their face! They both looked at me incredulously, full on consternation written all over their faces. In stereo they said “what do you mean? You go to her room too? I thought it was only me!” It was actually rather cute to think they were both convinced they are my favorite and they kept it as ‘our little secret’ without gloating to the other one (they do get along). So imagine their surprise when they found out both are my favorite. If I had known they felt this way, I would not have blown the secret either!

 

 

Airports

Today, I will be dropping my girls at the airport, for their flight to see the family and have Christmas with their father. I have dropped them at Kilimanjaro International Airport more than 20 times in the last years. And even though it is never a particularly joyous occasion for me (I am happy for them of course), I do love airports. I guess since an average visit to the airport means you are going on holiday, I am not alone when I say I love airports.

I find it interesting to just sit there and imagine where all these people are going and where they come from. Everybody has a story, right? And I am always intrigued to hear the story. And usually I leave it up to my imagination but sometimes it happens you end up talking to someone for hours during a layover and some of them do have such an interesting life story. I actually have facebook friends that I met in an airport. I guess sharing a gate created a certain bond 🙂

I have to admit I already did the imagining-thing when I was a kid. I remember sitting in a Quick-restaurant (Belgian version of McDonalds) and trying to imagine everyone’s life story. I would go as far as to imagine what some people’s living room would look like. In an airport, the possibilities are of course limitless. And who doesn’t love a world that is limitless?

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Being thankful

Today is Thanksgiving. I am not American so I do not celebrate it. But I have to agree it is a good tradition to be thankful once in a while.

I personally get quite annoyed when people act entitled. When stuff is – or worse: when people are – taken for granted. I mean, marriages break up over this stuff, no? Not trying to be corny, but I find it important to teach my children to stop and think and realize these things occasionally. Maybe it should even be easier for them, when living in 3 continents, to notice positive and little things?

In an effort to motivate them to do so, and to make it a habit, we have a gratitude journal. Every evening, we write together but in our own journal what we are thankful for. And it does become a habit, something you then develop an eye for and think of during the day. After writing, the girls are free to share what they wrote or keep it to themselves. On the same day, I heard the following:

A: “I am grateful for showers and how clean they make me feel when it is dusty”

C: “I am grateful for the tree that holds the swing”

And I am grateful for how wonderful those entries are.

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Words

When my children were born – and I assume this is the same for everyone – I slowly but surely tried to teach them how to speak. The first time they then actually used the right word for the right thing, it was followed by applause. My eldest was a stubborn one though, she would say “opa” 15 times when pointing at his chair, but she would refuse to say it when he was actually there (yearning to hear it, I am sure).

Then of course the second one comes along and you are surprised how they develop totally differently. It is as if every child walks through a room full of shelves and chooses from the shelves whatever skill they want to focus on first. Number one made two word sentences at a young age, number two has incredible eye-hand coordination. They also seemed to treat vocabulary differently. Number one associated table cloth with sheet but number two named the table cloth an apple because it was green.

I recall the first time my daughter came home from school and used words she did not learn from me. I remember that exact moment, because I realized she would now be exposed to every single word out there. In the past, she obviously heard words from other people aswell but I was there. Maybe it makes more sense that I remember that moment because my children are raised in a multi-lingual environment. So when the gardener was tending the flowers and gave them water, she repeated after him “maji” and we all beamed with pride. But when she came home from school and said (in an accent more English than the queen, I must add) “water“, it was.. well, weird.

(And don’t get me wrong, it is not as if I think they will pick up bad words from the outside world. They pick those from me. We have a swear jar in our house and all the money in it, comes from me. We could go on an annual holiday with that jar. Although I do my best, I use ‘flipping heck’ and ‘shoot’ and that sort of thing. )

And now we have come to the stage where my kids throw my words back at me. Also a pleasure. (Not) Where I lecture them on something and by God, I have to admit they listened to every word and have actually registered what I said fully because a couple of days or weeks later it is thrown right back at you, and you have to admit they are right and you should practice what you preach. But hey, who am I kidding, I am still beaming with pride when they do that (don’t tell them though).

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“maji!”

The good, the bad and the ugly

I work in a holiday destination, and I am usually the one to read the feedback from guests after their holiday. Luckily, 95% of what I get to read is fantastic, full of praise and tells me guests are over the moon. Great. A perk to the job even.

But you can imagine that the remaining 5% consists of a wide range: from totally legitimate complaints, to a tad naive remarks, sometimes even rude notes, and then all the way to downright ridiculous comments. The totally legitimate complaints I can work with, gladly even, appreciate knowing them. In the category naive, it sometimes seems guests leave their brain at home when they travel. One lady told me she did not brush her teeth for a full week because our packing list did not tell her to bring her toothbrush. Right.. whatever. A rude comment I found in a written questionnaire, saying: “the driver did not smell!”. I immediately wondered if I should be worried that we did not meet her expectations? But it is of course the ridiculous ones that make my job such fun. When I heard “we couldn’t sleep at night, it was quite annoying the animals made sounds all night”, it is very hard to bite my tongue and not reply “oh god, did they forgot to turn the feature off again?”. Or when someone complained there was an animal on the path to the room, I so wished I could say “what do you mean? Do they not put them back in their cages?”

A common one I got very often, was the one where the guest wrote “the Maasai were not very authentic”. Well, it is not as if we got a Chinese rip off in wholesale for her. A colleague and myself even started drawing cartoons based on these comments.

maasai

Not only the feedback but also the strange requests inspired us. When we received a parcel of toiletries in the office, addressed to the mobile camp in the Serengeti, clearly the guest thought DHL would deliver it at his tent? Which would probably look something like this..?

DHL

Clearly, people’s trust in DHL is limitless because when a Chinese millionaire’s daughter summited Kilimanjaro, she told us “you can take me and my luggage down now” and she was appalled by our suggestion she should walk it down. She insisted. We explained planes and helicopters cannot really land where she was. So she said “you can carry me on the stretcher and you can DHL the luggage down”. The worst part? The porters actually did carry her down on a stretcher. And carried her luggage. (I hope she tipped well.) And I made this.

DHL 2

But my favorite – and it has not been topped yet – is this one: “the beach was very sandy and there were fish in the ocean”. Which I thought was a huge compliment, talking about a great experience, right? But no, I misunderstood, it was a complaint: the beach was TOO sandy and since there were fish, she did not dare to swim in case they touched her.